Doctor to help fund shelter

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

LEESBURG -- Maybe it was fate, luck or divine intervention that brought Lee County Commission Chairman Ed Duffy to orthopedist Dr. Phillip Hajek's office shortly after Hajek had read a newspaper article about the county's efforts to find funding for its planned animal shelter.

No matter what brought the two together, Hajek and his Fifth Friday Foundation appear to be the final piece to a puzzle that will allow the county to provide humane care for the hundreds of stray animals rounded up by Lee Animal Control each year.

"I started the Fifth Friday Foundation in 2002," Hajek said. "Every time there is a fifth Friday in a month, we take all the money that we make in our office and put it in a fund that we use to help deserving organizations like the Albany Humane Society.

"I'd read an article in the paper about Lee County's animal shelter a few days before Ed Duffy happened to come in for an office visit. We had saved some money in our (Fifth Friday) fund for a bigger project, and after talking with him I thought this would be a good project for the foundation."

The first order of business was putting together a complete set of architectural drawings for the project. Hajek commissioned Scott Heywood for the job, and his work is currently being reviewed by Lee officials.

"Scott's e-mailed me a rough draft of the plans, and I hope to get with him in the next week or two so that we can push this thing forward," Mike Sistrunk, the county's interim public works director, said Friday. "People see that there haven't been any changes made on the outside of the building (since Phase I construction was completed at the end of last year), and they complain that we're not doing anything.

"We just finished putting in the septic tank system between the rains, and we have the water line system in place. There's work going on, but we've had to wait until the funds were available to move forward with the project. Hopefully, Dr. Hajek's contribution will be the final piece to the puzzle."

The county utilized $70,000 in special-purpose local-option sales tax funding and some $96,000 in private donations -- including $50,000 from one anonymous donor -- to get the animal shelter, located at 101 Mossy Dale Road at State Highway 32, to its current state of readiness.

"The shelter is dried in and most of the wall systems are in place," County Administrator Alan Ours said. "The electrical, HVAC, plumbing and sheetrock are the major items that are outstanding. Mr. Duffy has informed the Board of Commissioners that Dr. Hajek is interested in assisting with the completion of the project.

"My understanding is that Dr. Hajek has compiled a list, supported by architectural plans, of work that is to be done. Once the plans have been reviewed, we will meet with Dr. Hajek to find out what components of the shelter his foundation is willing to complete."

Hajek, whose orthopedic practice is part of Musculoskeletal Associates at 2311 Lake Park Drive in Albany, said he started the Fifth Friday Foundation as a means of helping organizations that do good work in the community.

"That's something I always wanted to do," he said. "When you do something like this, you're always looking to get everything in place before you step out and actually do it. I finally just said 'I'm going to do this' and started the foundation.

"It's a way to give back."

Hajek also has started a Health Harvest Foundation through which he provides medical outreach services to farmers and farm laborers. Through that foundation, he provides PSA, cholesterol and glucose screenings for farm workers, most of whom do not have adequate insurance.

"Dr. Hajek and I were talking about the animal shelter (during a visit), and he just got the idea that, by golly, he was going to use his foundation to help the county finish the animal shelter," Duffy said. "His main concern was that it be done right, and that's why he wanted to make sure architectural drawings were in place.

"The people of Lee County have been tremendous in donating to help get the shelter built, and Dr. Hajek's contribution may just be what it takes to get us over the top. Of course, there are others in the community who have pledged to help with the project, too. We're very optimistic that we'll be able to complete the shelter without it costing taxpayers another dime."

Officials' next order of business is putting together a schedule for work to start back up.

"The community is very anxious -- and has been for some time -- to see this project completed," Ours said. "It would be irresponsible of me to put an unrealistic date out there, but our goal is to have the shelter completed within a reasonable amount of time. We'll get it done as soon as we possibly can."